Africa Rising

Coca Cola fashion range by Rich Mnisi

From designers influenced by Nigerian Psychedelic rock, to those whose collections have graced David Beckham’s back, these pioneering African designers are redefining and disrupting the fashion world, reports Jane Tarrant  

Fashion by Duro Olowu

Duro Olowu  

If you’ve not come across Olowu before, you should know that Michelle Obama loves him so much that at Christmas 2015 she commissioned him to decorate the Vermeil Room at The White House. That’s how much of a big noise he is. While other celebrity clients include Iris Apfel and Solange Knowles. A Nigerian-born London-based designer, with a boutique at 14 Masons Yard, SW1, he launched his first collection in 2004, and is best known for his love of patterns and prints inspired by his African background. His Empire waist patchwork ‘Duro’ dress was voted dress of the year by British and American Vogue in 2005, and he’s the only designer to have ever won New Designer Of The Year at The British Fashion Awards (in 2005) without having shown a catwalk show. In 2009 he was voted Best International Designer at The African Fashion Awards.  

Lisa Folawiyo  

“Our mothers, grandmothers and probably great-grandmothers have worn this fabric,” Nigerian-born fashion designer Lisa Folawiyo told the BBC, referring to her collections crafted from West African Ankara textiles, and she is celebrated for her colourful lines that incorporate West African dyed fabrics with modern tailoring techniques and beading and sequin trim, hand-sewn in Nigerian local workshops. Since starting up her eponymous label (previously ‘Jewel by Lisa’) in 2005, the designer championed by Vogue Italia and partnered with L’Oreal has showrooms in New York and Nigeria and won awards such as The African Fashion Award in 2012, was voted one of eight emerging talents by Women’s Wear Daily in 2014, and in 2015 joined the Business of Fashion 500 list. She’s stocked in the US, South Africa, Nigeria and in Selfridges in the UK. Not bad for someone who entered fashion without formal training, having originally trained as a lawyer. 

Wale Adeyemi coat

Mowalola Ogunlesi  

London-based Mowalola Ogunlesi is one of the hottest emerging African menswear designers to watch, with write-ups in British Vogue (who mentions she’s a “fixture on London’s party scene”), W Magazine and Dazed and Confused, and clients including Kanye West, Skepta and Solange Knowles. Not to mention the Nigerian World Cup team, for whom she has also designed outfits in partnership with Nike. Born in Nigeria, and growing up in Lagos, she attended an all-girls Catholic school in Surrey aged 12, before graduating in print from London’s Central St Martins. Ogunlesi had taken orders and was making waves before even having a show: her 2017 St Martins press show was influenced by Nigerian Psychedelic rock from the 70s and 80s and her first on-schedule show was at Fashion East. Her ‘Psychedelic’ collection, she says, is “a celebration of the black African male: his culture, sexuality, and desires”. 

Adama Ndiaye 

Adama Ndiaye was born in Kinshasa, Zaire and raised in Europe to diplomat parents, influencing her cosmopolitan, global outlook, and her designs are inspired by cities and globalism. “Much of my inspiration come from the big cities,” she says. “My aim was and still is sharing with all modern women one fashion without borders.” Her pieces have featured in Vogue Italia, Elle USA, Elle SA and Vogue Brazil, and sell in New York City, Tokyo, London and Paris. (Fittingly, she’s also known as Adama Paris – the name of her label). She also founded Fashion Africa Channel, Black Fashion Week (she was “sick and tired of seeing only skinny blonde girls and not black women in the runway”) and Dakar Fashion Week, and has organised black fashion week events in Prague, Czech Republic and Brazil. When Beyonce carried her Boxy Red ‘Boyette’ bag it sold out.  

Wale Adeyemi jacket

Walé Adeyemi MBE 

“London is an ever-changing city, and has always inspired me with its diversity and culture,” says the British-Nigerian streetwear designer, whose celebrity fans include Beyonce, Rihanna, Tinie Tempah, Alisha Keyes, and David and Victoria Beckham. Adeyemi’s 2005 Iconic Graffiti collection was seen on the back of David Beckham, and was the subject of much hype – the Victoria and Albert Museum featured him in its Moments in Black British Style exhibition. Head designer at his label B-side, stocked at Harvey Nichols and Urban Outfitters, he originally started the label while he was still studying, and sold clothes via Camden Market (“mainly to Japan; they would visit the stall each week with big suitcases”), and in 1998 launched his first collection called “somewhere between the kerb and the boutique”. He received his MBE for his contribution to British Fashion in 2008, and is an ambassador for the Princes Trust. 

Rich Mnisi  

Born and based in South Africa Mnisi graduated with a BA in Fashion Design and Business Management, and in 2014 launched his label ‘OATH Studio’. Part of the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives Programme in 2015, his contemporary, gender-fluid collection has featured in Elle, GQ and Dazed and Confused. “Fashion gives one the ability to provide others with tools to enhance their daily expressions and storytelling,” he says. Last year he debuted his first furniture collection in Cape Town which was made up of two pieces in leather and steel, commissioned by Julian McGowan, co-founder of the Southern Guild platform for collectible design made in Africa, and inspired by his late, great grandmother. “I created ideas about what type of woman she was, and produced a fashion collection with colours that were playful and colourful to represent the joy that she had given,” he told Pinup Magazine.  

Coco Cola fashion by Rich Mnisi

Folake Akindele Coker 

Folake Akindele Coker is the founder and designer behind the Tiffany Amber label, launched in Lagos in 1998. “Every year, we keep reinventing ourselves in every way,” Folake said on the 20th anniversary of the brand.  “Not just to stand out to our very own beloved continent Africa, but to a wider audience across the world.” Educated in Switzerland and England, she took a postgrad degree in petroleum law, before returning to her birthplace, Nigeria, to enter the fashion trade. She was the first African designer to show twice at New York Fashion week, and won the Designer of The Year award at Johannesburg fashion week in 2009. In 2013 she made the Forbes Power Women list.

This feature was first published in Luxury Plus magazine.